The Best Indie Rock Albums of 2016
Did indie rock die this year? Coulda sworn I heard it did. Or was it the year before? I have a hard time keeping up with these death declarations of guitar-based music the internets have been rife with for the last forever. And if you’re only looking at the top few spots of year end album lists that are out there, the #indierockisdead hypothesis actually starts to take shape. Not a whole lot of love for the little guy in between the two Knowles sisters, Frank Ocean, Chance The Rapper and David Bowie.
But in reality it’s not that indie rock has died this year or last year or any other year that someone tweeted that it’s no longer relevant – indie rock has evolved. Its lack of a huge, culture (and record) shifting voice makes it seem smaller in scope, but the diversity within the genre is at an all-time high. It’s impossible to pinpoint one sound that defines indie rock right now, and that has allowed for an incredible number of new iterations on what indie rock means, and most importantly, new voices and viewpoints to join the fray. Emo, alt-country, post-hardcore, they have all found their voice in a fledging rock underground.
Long live indie rock, may it die every year.
6. Touché Amoré
LA post-hardcore outfit Touché Amoré’s Stage Four is driven by a singular purpose: a stream of catharsis for singer Jeremy Bolm deeply detailing the loss of his mother to cancer. It’s an unrelenting, heartbreaking journey that Bolm takes the listener on, aided by the perfectly pitched melodic hardcore of his bandmates, but it’s a credit to Bolm’s complete openness that the album goes far beyond confessional and grows in listenability the longer you spend with it.
I’ve never personally met Mitski Mitawaki, but I swear I know her after listening to Puberty 2. Her stark ruminating on life’s expectations – whether they be reflections on her romantic life, societal norms, or personal demons – all feel incredibly authentic and vital. Not to mention the song writing here is crisp, diverse and genre bending. Nothing is really out of Mitski’s wheelhouse. She’s fearless and brings a much needed voice to indie rock with Puberty 2.
The Dream Is Over
Fortunately, this album from Canadian punk group PUP isn’t too aptly named. Growly singer Stefan Babcock was told that his musical dreams were over by a doctor when his vocal cords were torn to shreds. But he battled back, brought a ton of gang vocals with him and he and his band mates made one of the most fun and raucous albums of the year. It’s self-loathing, self-deprecating but has the right amount of heart and is catchy as shit. The transition between the first song “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and second track “DVP” is the stuff of legends.
3. Car Seat Headrest
Teens of Denial
Will Toledo aka Car Seat Headrest takes us on a trip on Teens of Denial. He’s walking around the world observing its fallacy and phoniness like a 21st century Holden Caulfield, hoping to look cool taking drugs and is in search of some good porn, you know, with some meaning. But the porn has no meaning, and instead of transcending to a higher plane while taking acid and mushrooms, he “feels like walking piece of shit / in a stupid looking jacket.” It’s a dense, wholly unconventional indie rock album with 11 minute epics and nuanced influences that manages to find humor in dark places.
Alt-country has become the defacto way to describe Pinegrove’s sound on Cardinal, but trying to distill this album into a single subgenre does it so much disservice. Singer Evan Stephens Hall is a heady songwriter, carefully guiding the tunes on Cardinal exploring a singular theme of friendship backed by shambly roots rock, some distant banjos and devastating heartbreak. Pinegrove and Hall are in desperate search of a way to move forward in life without losing what got them where they are. It takes the eight brilliant songs of Cardinal to realize that’s impossible. But hitting replay and trying again is just as satisfying.
1. The Hotelier
To say an emo record is uplifting flies counterintuitive to what the whole genre was built on, but that’s exactly what The Hotelier have accomplished with Goodness, a record that is equal parts anthemic indie as it is inspired by 19th century transcendentalism. Those are the kind of dichotomy’s that The Hotelier and singer Christian Holden deal in on Goodness, a dark record in search of the light. They find it on tracks like “Sun” and “You In This Light,” and with it, some hope.
There isn’t a wasted note or moment on Goodness. The album is a risky departure from their previous, more straightforward Emo with a capital e sound, but the subdued moments on Goodness make the crescendos hit you even harder. It’s emo, it’s indie, it’s whatever label you want to cast upon it, but most importantly it’s one of the most challenging, beautiful and best albums of the year.
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